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Interview with Ruth Peterson and Lauren Krivo

Featured Study: National Neighborhood Crime Study (NNCS), 2000

Ruth Peterson

Ruth Peterson
Criminal Justice Research Center

Ohio State University

Lauren Krivo

Lauren Krivo
Sociology and Criminal Justice

Rutgers University

ICPSR Study 27501

We certainly appreciate your willingness to talk to us about your latest study deposited with RCMD/ICPSR. We would like to talk to you about this study and data sharing with the broader social science community. In doing so, we, at RCMD, see interviews like this as ways to attract prospective researchers to deposit their research data with us.

Now, let's begin by finding out how you got involved in this study. Also, what were the central objectives of this research effort?

Ruth: We got involved with the study after doing an analysis that involved looking at neighborhood crime in one city, Columbus, OH where we both lived at the time. We were excited with some findings that came from that study showing that communities, when you could make comparisons across communities of different colors that were also economically similar to one another, that the crime rate that we normally see as disparate across, for example, Black and White communities, were much less disparate. So we were interested in determining if that kind of pattern played out across other places and if it was a norm throughout the urban areas of the city. But there's a big problem in trying to do that; and that is that Black communities have very few affluent neighborhoods or Black communities tends not to be so affluent and White communities tend not to be so poor. So when you compare Black and White communities, you're often comparing apples and oranges. The same might be true for Latino and White communities. So we figured that the only way to really handle that problem was to collect data for a large number of cities in the United States and if we would get one or two Black or Latino communities that were economically well off and put them together and make some comparisons across like communities, economically speaking, of different colors. That was sort of the starting point of this work.

Now that you have conducted the study, and analyzed the data, what would say are the major findings of your research?

Laurie: We recently published a book called Divergent Social Worlds which analyzed the question that Ruth just explained to you in a great deal of detail, trying to understand whether, in fact, how do the divergent social conditions, the economic conditions, in communities that have different ethnic and racial compositions, how much does it contribute to differences in crime? There's a couple things that are really important that I think have come out of that. One of them is this idea that Ruth said about how we thought that we needed to do a large number of cities to have enough African American communities that were affluent enough to compare with White communities, and enough White communities that were disadvantaged enough to compare with African American and Latino communities. We found that if you have enough cities, in fact you can make those comparisons but those comparisons are still relatively few and far between. That's why we called our book Divergent Social Worlds. The White communities tend to still be extremely privileged in terms of their social and economic conditions relative to the African American and the Latino communities and the overlap in those two is relatively modest. Just enough to actually be able to study more adequately the role of those conditions in contributing to crime because you have more comparable communities but the divergence is still tremendous. Even though now we have nearly 9,000 neighborhoods in the study whereas before it was just 200 neighborhoods in our study of the single city of Columbus. So we have really diverse kinds of cities and a very large number of neighborhoods. The second thing is that, actually nonetheless, when you do at least statistically equate the White, African American and Latino, and we do have actually other minorities and integrated neighborhoods, when neighborhoods are equated, levels of violent crimes are considerably more comparable. It's these differences in disadvantage that really contribute to this. The same pattern is true for property crime, but property crime is much less unequal, it turns out.

Ruth: We also had some, we were for the first time, able to look at how city characteristics influence neighborhood crime and to look at essentially the role of segregation across a large number of communities. What we found, if I remember correctly, is that communities that are more highly segregated have higher crime in all kinds of neighborhoods, whether those neighborhoods are White, African American, Latino, Mixed Minority or Integrated. That was another finding that could only have come out of a project like this one.

Now that these data are available to other researchers, what advice would give for those who are analyzing the contents of this study?

Laurie: Obviously, read the codebook carefully, but you should do that for every dataset that you use. In addition, take advantage of the fact that we have such a diversity of different kinds of neighborhoods to analyze different kinds of questions than we might personally have addressed.

When you were an undergraduate is this the career you thought you would have?

Ruth: I can't remember back that far! As an undergraduate student, I don't think I thought about a career doing research or being a faculty member. I think I probably thought I would be in an administrative role in some kind of social service agency, or something of that sort. But that changed very quickly after I left undergraduate school. I went back to work at the community college where I started school. I became more thoughtful about research and about teaching. So it was not something that I thought about as an undergraduate.

Laurie: Not unlike Ruth, I guess I started part way through undergraduate school thinking the same kind of thing. A lot of undergraduates, if you're interested in social sciences to start with, or sociology and the like, you know, you think you want to change the world and you assume you'll be some sort of a social worker, agent of change, whatever it is. I was very strongly influenced by a couple of professors I had as an undergraduate who were the ones who got me started doing research. We were riding buses around St. Louis and seeing what communities were like in different kinds of places. So I don't know if I really saw where I was going to end up, but that certainly influenced me to go to graduate school and think about doing research. I will say, I would never have thought I would be studying crime. But that emerged totally from my collaboration with Ruth and seeing how these interests had clearly come together in really important ways.

Ruth: Laurie's interests have been more on housing and segregation and concerns like that so when we started working together, and we've also both had a continuing interest in race and ethnicity and how that affects people's life chances. So when we started working together we combined her interest in segregation with my interest in crime and our combined interest in race and ethnicity into the research that we have done together.

What excites you about being a researcher? What are some of the rewards of the research process?

Ruth: Well one of the major rewards is seeing it come to fruition and realizing that you have actually contributed to knowledge, to building knowledge that you now know things that you wouldn't have known had you not undertaken the research. So that's a big part of the reward for me.

Laurie: I would say that I agree, I don't have a particularly different perspective but the exciting part is seeing it come to fruition and talking with people about it, getting the information out and seeing that it really does seem to excite and interest people and that we're hopefully making an impact in changing how people think about what I think is really important questions for society, these kinds of inequalities. We're really bringing those to front and center.

Ruth: It's also fun to collaborate. When you can work out a collaboration with someone that you enjoy working with, that part has also been fun and it stimulates its own additional research opportunities and questions and so forth. It takes on a little bit of a life of its own and then you get both those ingredients that we just talked about, you get the findings that move the field along and you get the findings that also contribute to how people think about these central issues and problems.

What are some of the challenges of the research process?

Laurie: If you want to talk about this particular study, the key challenge with this study was we collected crime data for 91 cities: for neighborhoods or census tracts in 91 different cities. So in a certain way, this was 91 research projects. What we had to do is we had to obtain those data for each city directly from the police department. Police departments are not in existence to organize and provide others with their data. They're in existence to respond to crime. So, in fact, we were working with over the course of what turned out to be about 5 years or more, 91 different organizations. More than 91, because some turned us down. So the process of organizing and keeping track of how one could deal directly with that many organizations was an enormous challenge and an enormous administrative and organizational feat of its own. So I think for anyone moving forward that really wants to do research that involves obtaining administrative data, I would say, really think hard about how much work is involved if one has to go directly to all of those organizations to get detailed data. Really plan it out well because it is extremely complex.

If someone is just starting out their career in research, whether it's as an undergraduate student, graduate student or recent graduate, what advice would you have for them?

Ruth: Well first of all I would say that they should really read a lot in the area in which they want to write and in which they are conducting the investigation. To make sure that your work is set in a context of work that already exists and that you're not covering old territory or just making minor changes in what we already know. Although much of our work is incremental, you want to be adding to the literature and not just replicating it all the time. Although there's nothing wrong with replicating it, you know, you need to have a reason for doing so. So I would say one thing is to make sure you're really grounded in the existing literature and to make sure that the data that you are going to work with can really help you address the issue that you're interested in. Or if you're going to gather data that's a whole can of worms. You have to think about the issues that Laurie just talked about or other issues depending on what kind of data you're trying to gather.

What are in your future research plans and inquiries?

Laurie: Well, we are currently involved in trying to finish up, get completed several papers that are analyzing these data on somewhat discrete topics. They don't all relate to this key theme of race and ethnicity. So we're continuing to work with these data because they are so unique. We're currently in the middle of writing a paper that looks at how mortgage lending influences crime patterns across neighborhoods of different racial and ethnic compositions. We've been building on some of the segregation themes and conducting analyses that deal more with issues of this exact location in space, like where are neighborhoods relative to other neighborhoods and how are those characteristics more or less important in terms of crime, and we have several projects like that are just following up on issues that can be addressed by having so much crime data. But the two of us are also involved in a project that has several other PIs. We have a little group we call the Spatial Crime Group. There are five PIs across different disciplines: sociology, geography, and statistics where we're looking at the role of neighborhood problem behaviors, particularly drug use and crime with a focus on expanding how we think about a neighborhood beyond the neighborhood where you live and how does the neighborhood that people experience in cities, how does that influence these things. So the places you go routinely can also affect you. What are those neighborhoods, how do those contribute to a neighborhood effect? You go to work, you go to shop, you go visit people and you're in different kinds of neighborhoods. So expanding the idea about what does neighborhood influence mean.

This paper has now been published:
Saporu, Darlene F., Charles L. Patton, III, Lauren J. Krivo, and Ruth D. Peterson. 2011.
"Differential Benefits? Crime and Community Investments in Racially Distinct Neighborhoods." Race and Justice 1:79-102.

We certainly appreciate of you depositing this study with RCMD. What are your views about data sharing with other members of the research community?

Ruth: I'm very pro-data sharing. It seems to us that that is one way where both the monetary cost of the granting agency or whoever funds the data-gathering, the blood sweat and tears that graduate students, faculty, and researchers in general put into gathering the data can actually have a lot more payoff for the effort because people will undoubtedly think of issues that can be investigated with the data that you would not have thought of yourself, and that you could not have done all yourself. So, I think it's a vehicle for building knowledge. If you think about some of the datasets that are national data sets that people use on a regular basis, it's just unimaginable to think that if those data had just been held only by the original researchers, that we would have the information that we have stemming from those datasets. I'm thinking of the Adolescent Health Survey or the data that they collect on a regular basis at the Wisconsin Project, all of that so I think that it just gets you much more for the dollars and the energy that's put into the data collection.

Is this your first experience depositing data with ICPSR/RCMD?

It is.

What were the factors affecting this decision?

Laurie:: Well, we felt that this was a strong professional obligation I think, that we did get money from the federal government, and that we were supposed to share it with others and we felt that we should for the reasons that Ruth already articulated. And then in addition, ICPSR approached us. We dragged our feet a little bit because the other thing is that you want to get the important work done and some researchers are a little faster than us at getting their written products out. So, we dragged our feet for a little bit but once we got our major goal achieved with the data then we just moved forward.

Ruth:: I had also served on ICPSR council, so I was aware from the point of view of ICPSR how important data sharing is. But, I wouldn't have had to have had that interaction to know that it was important and that we should deposit the data so that other people could use it.

Laurie: We hope you people are already using it because you know, in addition to all this general, professional obligations, I mean, we have been approached many times individually before the deposit about sharing the data. So, there clearly is a lot of interest in these kinds of data so hopefully they're already being used by others.

How did you find the demands of your time, and any other experiences that you went through with the depositing process with RCMD?

Laurie: One of the things to deposit that was a little more time consuming than you might otherwise have been if you were just keeping the data to yourself is that you have to have really careful documentation and codebook that really explains everything, so that's a more demanding part and depending on how large the dataset is it will be more or less demanding. You have to put everything down so that you know people understand. People shouldn't be using data that they don't understand, all of the nitty gritty about how they were put together and the potential caveats within them. So that's one part. That was really, in terms of preparation, the major thing. Also making sure the data is in a form that is accessible to others and clear takes a little bit of additional time. Again, you're not just using it yourself. Proofreading to make sure you don't make mistakes. We found a mistake in the codebook the week before it was supposed to go live, so the care that's involved in that. The other thing is that you guys, at RCMD, were very efficient and helpful in moving it forward and making it go public, live, whatever you want to call it. But, it did sit for quite a long time in the general queue. So that's not really our time and demand but it is an issue that researchers should be aware of, that it doesn't happen immediately. But you guys were extremely efficient at RCMD. Were very, very helpful and efficient.

Ruth:: We're very pleased that the data are there and that people will be able to just go to them and use them. We've referred a lot of people. People ask us about the data and we're able to just say, "They're at ICPSR. Here's the number."

Laurie: Someone was saying something to me that knew about our data collection and it was like, "I'm not asking you to share your data." And I was like, "you can have our data anytime. It's at ICPSR. You don't have to feel bad about asking anymore. We wrote our book, you can get them."

Ruth: So we're actually very pleased. When we got the notice that they were coming online, we were really excited about that because we're looking forward to seeing what people do with them as well. We hope people use them and we look forward to seeing what they do with them.

How have you applied your research experience in the classroom?

Ruth: We offered what we called a research practicum to our graduate students, with these data before it was deposited. So, we shared the data with them, we talk to them about the experience of collecting the data, what the data were. They came up with ideas for papers and worked in twos to develop papers. Some have presented that work at various meetings. One of the papers that Laurie talked about earlier is one that came from that research practicum where the two lead authors will be those two graduate students working on that idea together and we are finishing up working with them on it and will be submitting a paper hopefully later this month. That was one of the main ways in which we have integrated it into our teaching. We're on a quarter system here at Ohio State and we did a two-quarter sequence where they learned about the data and they worked with the data and developed a paper.

Laurie: Right now, I'm teaching an undergraduate class here at Rutgers University on communities and crime and the class isn't directly informed by the research but at the same time we are reading a paper that came out of this research so I think in that regard it feeds itself back into the issues that I teach.

Ruth: I'm going to teach a graduate seminar next quarter and that will definitely be the case in all likelihood. We will read the Divergent Social Worlds book which also tells a lot about the data and the analyses in the book are based on the data itself so hopefully that will also generate some interest on the students' part, working with the data.

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